Could new Champions League format lead to new victor?

Barca and Bayern are in contention for the title, but only one will reach the semifinals

LISBON • With just two former winners left in the competition, no Cristiano Ronaldo and no fans, the Champions League moves to Lisbon this week for the start of the “Final Eight” with the intriguing prospect that a new format could lead to a new name on the trophy.

However, the shadow of the coronavirus looms large after it was announced on Sunday two individuals from Atletico Madrid, one of the teams involved in Portugal, have tested positive.

It was not revealed whether the two positive cases involved players or backroom staff. Subsequently, Atletico confirmed yesterday that the rest of squad and staff were negative for coronavirus.

Barcelona and Bayern Munich, with five European Cups each, are in contention for the title, but only one will reach the semifinals — they meet each other in the quarter-finals at the Estadio da Luz on Friday.

With Barca desperate for more European success before Lionel Messi moves on and

Bayern looking a fearsome proposition led by Robert Lewandowski, that promises to be a thrilling tie despite the lack of supporters.

But maybe this time the glory will go to someone new altogether, with Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) both having reason to believe this will be the year they are rewarded for a decade of decadence fuelled by the immense wealth of their owners in the Gulf.

Perhaps Atletico will at last go the extra step under Diego Simeone, or perhaps there will be a shock winner in RB Leipzig, Atalanta or even Lyon.

At this level, Atalanta is the minnows and it would be a remarkable story if they won the trophy in their first appearance in the Champions League after the terrible suffering of their hometown Bergamo during the pandemic.

It is as a direct result of Covid-19 that UEFA has taken the Champions League to the Portuguese capital for the latter stages. Travel restrictions and a lack of time to get the season finished meant playing all games in the same place and doing away with two-legged ties in the quarterfinals and semifinals was the only solution.

That scenario, however, became a little more complicated on Sunday after Atletico’s announcement.

The final will be played at Estadio da Luz on Aug 23. The “Final Eight” will start at the same ground tomorrow when Atalanta faces PSG.

Whoever wins that will meet Leipzig or Atletico for a place in the final, while City or Lyon will meet Bayern or Barcelona in the other semifinal.

The most unusual Champions League has already seen Real Madrid go out in the last 16 along with holders Liverpool and Juventus, who were eliminated by Lyon last Friday despite the best efforts of Ronaldo.

But from Messi, Lewandowski and Kylian Mbappe to Neymar and Kevin De Bruyne, some of the finest talent around will be on display in Lisbon.

It is just a shame the champions will be crowned in an empty stadium.

Football fans have become used in recent months to watching on television as games go ahead behind closed doors. — AFP